Developer: Retro Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Wii U
Released: May 4, 2018
Copy supplied by publisher
The Nintendo Switch’s fast-growing software library has received another port of a first party Wii U game in the form of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The first Donkey Kong Country game was developed by Rare for the Super Nintendo in 1994 and saw two sequels come to the 16-bit system during its lifespan. The side-scrolling platforming series was well received and applauded for pushing the Super Nintendo to the limits of its technical capabilities. The series was resurrected by Retro Studios in 2010 with Donkey Kong Country Returns which appeared on the Nintendo Wii and later received a slick 3DS port. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is Retro’s follow-up to DKC Returns and originally appeared on the Wii U in 2014, where it was unfortunately missed by most due to the Wii U’s disappointing sales numbers.
In terms of design, Tropical Freeze is an ode to the original series featuring colorful environments and expertly designed levels. Taking control of the titular ape brings back memories of my after school gaming sessions with friends during the mid-90s. Donkey Kong swings, jumps, rolls, and runs through the charming levels with grace and taking control of the classic Nintendo character feels better than ever. Along for the journey are Diddy Kong, who returns with his barrel jetpack for crossing large gaps; Dixie Kong, who has the ability to spin her ponytail into a propeller and slowly descend through the air; and Cranky Kong, who can use his cane to bounce on dangerous surfaces, reach higher areas, and defeat certain enemies, similar to the mechanic found in the DuckTales games. A new addition to the Switch version of the game is Funky Kong, who first made an appearance as the proprietor of Funky’s Flights Airline in the original DKC.
Donkey Kong Country games are known for their challenging platforming, requiring a high level of skill and precise timing. In particular, the infamous mine cart sections are especially tough and demand a sometimes frustrating amount of trial and error. The simian surfer dude Funky Kong is a welcome addition for less experienced gamers, with the new Funky Kong mode essentially functioning as the game’s easy mode. The mode gives players more health and the character has the ability to double jump, hover and roll without continuously. We have seen Nintendo make additions to cater to a wider audience before in the form of Mario Kart 8’s steering assist mode and as a father of two young boys, I appreciate these additions. Some players may gripe about Nintendo catering to the casual crowd but the standard difficulty is still there for anyone who wants it, and if making the game more accessible means that more people are able to experience this delightful platformer, I’m all for it.
On the technical side of things, the Switch remaster receives a resolution upgrade, boosting the Wii U’s native 720p up to 1080p in docked mode. It looks great in both handheld mode and on the big screen, with sharp textures that highlight the game’s gorgeous art style. While the visual changes from the Wii U version aren’t sigificant, Retro has done a fine job at adapting Tropical Freeze for Nintendo’s portable console. On top of the bumped-up resolution, the game features dramatically shorter load times in the Switch version, which will see you swinging in and out of level within seconds.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a fantastic platformer that is right at home on the Nintendo Switch. Longtime fans of the series will love the game’s classic platforming, wonderful level design, and lineup of classic characters. Switch owners who are new to the series will appreciate the remake’s lower barrier to entry with the inclusion of the Funky mode. The Nintendo Switch port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will finally allow more people to experience a fantastic game they may have missed the first time on the Wii U.